Monday, November 24, 2014

searching for

I remember reading about saints as a child and the longing I felt to experience something miraculous, something I could hold onto, physically see, something that would be evidence of my own holiness or specialness, evidence that I was somehow good at faith, that I really was a child of God as I had been taught. I remember convincing myself (in third grade, this might have been) that the statue of Mary in church lifted her downcast eyes and looked at me during school mass. Later, I passed a note to my best friend during class with a sketch of what I wanted to believe had happened, as if retelling the story would make it true. I don't remember my friend's reaction but I do remember that longing. It was something like a dark spot on the sun; it drew my eye, it had to be explored. I wanted something I could put there, a way to fill that gap between my head and my heart, something I could trust. Authenticity. 

I also remember this happening:

My heartbeat is the loudest thing I can imagine. 

The sun pulses along with it. Except I'm indoors. There is no sun. Just the heat expanding in my body, bright and hot. 

My vision clouds as black specks condense on my periphery. I remain kneeling because this is the consecration. I know it's okay to sit if I need to. But I don't want to draw attention to myself.  

All the color has gone from my face. I felt it leave. My breath feels constricted, squeezed, the smallest thing I can imagine. I'm starting to not be able to hear. A buzzing creeps into my head and starts trickling down my skull like rain dripping there. 

With a shallow exhale I sit back and let my head drop to my knees. My vision clears. I can hear the priest's voice again but I'm not listening to his words, just my breath, a whooshing in my ears. I feel like an emergency until finally I'm not. The teacher asks if I'm okay. I am. 

This is not an experience; this is low blood pressure. 


Now, there's this:

When I still myself I can feel my pulse bouncing no echoing no calling from inside my body, a rhythm vibrating with a sound I can almost hear but it's on the other side of something, a wall or something else in the way. I press my face against it and there's a small hole I can see through, just barely if I align my eye just so. It's big out there, wide and wild and more than everything. I want to force my hand through the gap, widen the hole and wiggle my entire body through. But that's the thing, I have to leave my body behind and I don't know how to do that. I sense my hands on my thighs, resting there and I can't remember if they're palms up or palms down. I'm thinking palms down but it could really be either way. I shrink to a point for a split second before I crash back into full awareness and I open my eyes. 

I'm not pretending. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I don't always write about my kids

I watched the woman walk down the sidewalk in those heels: tall, narrow, impossible. She wobbled, but expertly so. She wobbled the way you should when you're wearing heels: a slight external rotation, the same with each step. It's not really a wobble, then, but a pattern of walking. So I should say she stepped expertly, with precision and confidence. I'd have to say she rocked those heels. And her ass, as huge as it was, stretching that black and white zebra print as it did, moved with a rhythm that magnetized my eyes. I had to stare at her ass. And I'm not normally one for ass-staring; it's not my thing. But stare is what I did, as if hypnotized. It was a neutral thing, a zoned stare. I followed her progress down the sidewalk with my eyes, the rhythm of her step both audible and visual, until she turned into a doorway and disappeared.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I walk the dog in the pre-dawn night. Morning, we call it. 

I'm on the sidewalk of the busy street near my house. I don't like walking here -- the dog, I don't trust: he'll dart into the street if he thinks there's something worth sniffing in the gutter, so I have to keep his leash short or my reaction time quick. But it's a means to an end. 

A fence borders the sidewalk -- wooden, so it holds my shadow (it would just slip through chain link). As cars pass, my shadow runs ahead then crashes to the ground when the headlights are gone. I watch myself accelerate and disappear, accelerate and disappear, a slideshow of identical figures but each in a different light. 

I turn onto the quiet side street I was heading for. There are no cars here: just the one streetlight, a halo. I pass into its circle; my shadow walks with me. A few more paces and now I'm in the dark again, alone with just the sound of my sneakers on the pavement. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

how I saw her

I saw her in her winter coat and her too-short snow pants (they're FINE, mama). The bare inch of her calf exposed to the air where boot and snow pants yawned apart and her thin red leggings had gotten bunched at the knee. It was 7 in the morning. (too early to go out, only a millimeter of snow, it's cold, you'll freeze). (I want to go, Mama -- and she went), I saw her in that pink Hello Kitty hat, in mittens thin and worn, ones I had bought for her oldest sister something like seven years ago. I'm not sure why I haven't gotten rid of them. I saw her standing there in the backyard with her chocolate milk mustache -- a double smile on her face. I saw her brushing off the swing, content in her own skin, fine with being on her own, tapped into the joy of the first few flurries sticking to the grass. I saw her standing there. I saw her shining there. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

making something

Drawing, painting: I watch it happen; I clean up after it; I exclaim over it; I tape it to all the walls in my house; I recycle some of it (in secret). But I do not draw myself, as a rule. I've never been any good at it. I'd like to externalize onto a visual plane but -- well, what I remember about painting is this:

On a roof in a South Carolina spring, I dip my brush into the absurd purple paint and it saturates each fiber, bubbling and thick. No one else is around right now. I press the brush against the wood and drag it left. It's a dry feeling. The wood wants the color, eats it right up, asks for seconds, please. This I can do. I fill the brush and spoon the paint across the space again; the color slides better now. Again, again. I'm working on a small corner of old wooden siding, and there's so much more to do. I'm not afraid to go slow here; I really can't mess this up. I don't need to speak. All I need to do is feed this space. I can meet these physical needs. It feels good across my arm. Some paint drips onto my boot. I like how it looks, the purple splatter pattern on my toe, so I let another drip fall, on purpose. It looks like I've been doing something fun.

I came across those boots not so long ago, and that purple paint -- I could just feel it again, lubricating the dry old wood of that dry old house. That was a long time ago, now, when I was in a place so far from home, where I doubted myself so intensely, where I felt lost and inadequate. I've never been much for creating things with my hands -- not building, not drawing, not painting. But I found solace that day, covering a blank space with color, feeling like I coudl actually do something real.

I hung onto those boots for years beyond their useful life. They sat in the laundry room, molding probably, but I couldn't get rid of them because they had a history. They look like I was somewhere, like I did something, like I made something. And it's true: I had.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

it is what it is

My winter coat is deep and warm and long. I had meant to take it to the cleaner at the end of last winter, but I never made the trip. It hung on its hook all through the warmer seasons, dirty sleeves forgotten. Now, it's not quite cold enough to wear daily, but there have been occasions. The first time I sunk my hand into the left pocket, my fingers closed around something small and smooth and hard. It's always a pleasant surprise to find money in a coat pocket. But this was something else: a stone, handed to me no doubt by small fingers for safe keeping. The memory of the exchange is gone, an exhale into the wind, but I have proof in my pocket. It is completely unremarkable, though: the color of any stone, such an anonymous shape, sized like a million others. I could toss it at any time -- it belongs everywhere -- but for now I'm holding onto it.

Because it reminds me that we're all --
    that I'm just --
         that at the core of everything --
No, none of that.
But I'm keeping it just the same.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The lights are dim. The sun isn't doing anything yet. Two cereal bowls sit next to the sink, a spoon in each so they don't stack neatly. Two kitchen cupboards hang open, the last gesture forgotten. My coffee cup is half empty. I take another sip and trace the warmth from my throat down through my chest and into my stomach. It spreads. I'm not awake yet, but I feel a brightening around my edges. I'm starting to be able to see. It's been a restful night.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Is of the essence.
I see it falling on the ground like leaves, days ripped of the calendar and fanned across the lawn, some right side up and some up side down so there's red and grey, brightness and shadow, collected there.

Time always goes by so quickly. The clock tells me it's morning, the sky isn't light yet, but if I don't walk the dog right now -- I mean right now -- there won't be enough time before the kids are up and the breakfasts need making and the school bus needs meeting. So I walk in the cold, in the dark, through time I've stolen from myself, from my sleep, and when I return I'm warmer, a little more ready for the sun that's just lightening the sky, just starting to get in.

Then there are pockets of time that stagnate, moments that pass that should be whole, fat minutes slipping by. This is always when I'm sitting still but my mind is not still at all. When I'm asked to play babies by my two-year-old, when she wants me to sit here -- right here -- while she puts Band-aids on my arm. Time crawls then, and my skin will sometimes, too, because I know there are one million things I could be getting done, but I also understand the value of staying here, feeling her small fingers brush my arm. And so I sit, I keep my eyes off the clock, and I try to see her, not the laundry wrinkling all by itself in the cooling dryer. It has all the time in the world.

Sometimes I get to the end of the day and I'm gasping for time. My fantasy is a long stretch of nothing. I imagine myself bored, nothing to do, and I would wallow in that, sunk deep like in the tub, bubbles of time swirling around my toes like hot bath water. I could drink time, breathe it in, save it up, store it, bank it. Back when my kids were babies I thought a lot about borrowing time -- from where, though? -- I'd take it out on loan from someplace safe and the only thing I would want to do with it was sleep. Now I think that would be such a waste. Give me an extra hour and I'd probably do more ironing, or, you know, change the sheets for once. But the best thing would be to just sit and let every delicious minute pass without doing anything at all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Observer only

With my index finger, I press on the cuticle of my thumb. Nail against skin, it peels back. I don't feel pain. Pain is an explosion. This is just an eyelash, shed and sliding down my cheek.

My other hand steers the car. I crest the hill. A small cross marks the scene of a news story I read nearly a year ago. Even at 60mph, the fresh flowers blaze against the white of the cross.

I continue worrying the skin on my thumb. It doesn't bleed.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

a moment alone

Overhead, the clouds move, low-slung and widely spaced, backed by sky in an unnamed shade of blue. I've always thought of clouds as two-dimensional. Not as in a child's drawing -- fluffy, rounded, symmetrical -- but like the bottoms of a fleet of irregular boats as seen from underneath: flat, pressed, only partly in view. But as I watch, the edge of this cloud curls under and the whole thing rotates around no axis at all, eddying in an unseen current. Forming, not formed. One facet is shot through with a subtle rainbow and I inhale to speak, to point it out, before I remember that I'm alone. I close my mouth. The color fades.

Monday, July 29, 2013

mother tongue

At the back of the boat there are two fishing poles standing upright: hooks threaded, lines taut, rods flexed with tension. Something on the other side of the lake breathes out and out and out, a continuous exhale that lifts the waves, rifles through my hair, and catches on the fishing line, vibrating, humming, an accidental harp. It whispers two notes, singing in a language I haven't learned to translate. But I listen anyway.

Monday, July 1, 2013

just a little spell

On Friday I walked the dog at 6a.m. By 6:05 I was carrying her home in a cradle hold, her spine draped and sagging like a C between my arms. An awkward weight. With her eyes at half mast, her legs flopped gently with the rhythm of my step.

A fainting spell, the vet said, probably related to her heart condition and her advanced age. Her blood pressure checked out normal and though her energy seemed lower this weekend, she was otherwise fine and bounded to the door this morning, declaring herself fit to walk. But our pace was slow and she lagged behind, joyless and plodding. She'll sleep it off and beg to come tomorrow morning. I don't think it's a good idea. But she won't understand.


For weeks -- no, months -- something has been on the tip of my tongue. Words, I thought, an image. A story? But I examined myself in the mirror and I think it's just been a wad of cotton all along. Fog made material and manifested in my mouth. And I thought it would feel good -- freeing, maybe -- to state the obvious, to accept it, put it out there: I'm not writing right now. Haven't for awhile. Don't expect to any time soon. Why? What's the diagnosis?

But I don't feel free. I feel like I'm staring at a brick wall. A dead end.

Oh, I know dry spells are normal, that sometimes we have to dig holes on the shore and wait for the tide to come in and saturate the sand. But there's no way to know, is there, how long you might lie beached and what might evaporate while you wait.

Maybe the moon is phasing slowly this season. Or maybe the climate has changed. Maybe the sea is already dead. I don't know.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


In the bathroom, a millipede. Too-many legs carry it out of dark pockets, ugly against the white wall. Each appendage moves with a mind of its own, nothing like reeds in a stream.

I could ignore it, pretend I didn't see; it would slink away, disappear, and I could forget. But back in the shadows, it would grow bigger. Its legs would multiply. Who knows where it'd turn up, half a foot long and with a million legs. Maybe in the damp folds of my towel, right where I'd want to wipe my face. Maybe rearing up out of the shower drain, inches from my bare foot.

I cringe and shudder. I don't want to peel it off the wall, I don't want to feel the crunch of its body,  but its image crawls down my spine. I scoop it into a wad of toilet paper and flush, quickly.

But one in the light means how many still hidden? Nesting. I don't want to know.

After my shower, I give my towel an extra good shake. A lot of good that will do. Those legs cling.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

on intentions. on mistakes.

Four white shirts came through the wash. Brand new. I laundered them with like colors, and they made the rest of the load look grey.

I hung them on the line even though the air was heavy and the sky was dark. Why did I take the chance? I did not want them to shrink in the dryer.

I stayed outside. Drops began to fall.  I hesitated. The sky watched me for awhile then began to weep. I unpinned the shirts. I layered them in the basket. I hurried them inside.

After a brief tumble in the dryer, I smoothed each shirt with the palm of my hand. The fabric was warm and coarse and dotted all over with bits of green.  The raindrops must have been laced with pollen from the trees that arch over the laundry line, over the house, thick-trunked and messy in the spring.

I think about washing the shirts again but instead I just fold them into imperfect rectangles and tuck them into the drawer. No one will notice.

Monday, May 13, 2013


It's raining. Not hard, but enough drops collect on my windshield that I want the wipers on. I set the speed to intermittent. In the pause between the movements of the blades, the drops reach a critical mass and for a moment I almost can't see. Then I can.

I adjust the wiper speed. I drive a mile. I forget the rain.

Friday, April 26, 2013


By midnight, I am a cardboard cutout, corrugated and soaked in kerosene, pockmarked with bullet holes where my own words shot right through me, deflected as they were by your steel armor. How can an 8-year-old be so stubborn?

When sleep finally takes you, I collapse into unconsciousness. At the baby's routine waking, I am the walking dead. She can still draw life from me, though, so I must still be alive. In what way?

In the morning, I walk the dog alone. Rusted metal plates the inside of my skull. The oxidation is almost complete, I tell myself. But the cool air reanimates my form, and I look down at my legs in motion: whole, inflated, two of them. They surprise me.

A great blue heron alights from the creek, wingspan impossible. I could have done better, I admit to the sky. The breeze makes my eyes water and the words taste familiar in my mouth. I will know the curve of each letter by the end of this: all the sharp edges and ragged corners pressed into my heart.

But that's how we evolve, isn't it? Better upon better, inch my inch. From slime to heron, great and blue. It only takes a couple billion years.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

eyes open

I awake into the near-light of a morning stilled with fog. The air and the hour weigh heavy. Maybe the sun isn't going to come up today.

But it does. Of course it does. Only instead of a distinct orange orb, the sunrise smears across the sky. I inhale the moisture and the image into my lungs and all I can think is this:

I can see. Oh god, I can see.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

on thawing, and thinking

Night squeezed a few flakes out of the damp air and the boardwalk is speckled white and slick. I walk without trust, bridged over this thawed and yawning marshland. Just ahead, a knot in the wood looks up at me and I stop, not wanting to step on it. It weeps with moisture in a form somewhere between frost and dew. I could believe it's sap, softened by the onset of spring, bleeding life into limb and leaf. But these are hewn planks. Dead wood. My footsteps echo across the boardwalk.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

from inside

My alarm sounds at 5:40. I had set it to a gentle, swelling song but the notes still hook me in the gills and leave me flopping on shore. Not enough, I gasp. But I get up anyway and pull jeans over leggings, surveying my starting point: rust in my joints and fog behind my eyes.

I always feel better by 6:01, though, so I keep moving. The daily walk with my neighbor and our dogs has become a critical part of a healthy routine that has held me whole through these months of cabin fever and sleep deprivation.

But by the time I've put in my contacts and sipped a bit of coffee, I realize that it's raining too hard to go out. I'm disappointed, of course, but I'll take these few pre-dawn minutes alone anyway. I sit on the couch, hanging onto my mug, watching fog web the spaces between the still-bare tree branches. The coffee's heat steeps into my palms and the rain taps on the roof (of my soul).

I don't want the sun to come up just yet. I'm not ready for the day to begin.

But her bare feet on the hardwood floor draw me to the surface. I smile at her sleepy face, at her bright eyes, at the life brimming there. She doesn't need any coffee.

Mama, can I turn on the light? she whispers.

Of course, I answer. Light opens the room.

I look back at the window but the lamp creates a glare, and the glass no longer promises a portal to the world outside. Instead, it reflects the wall, the fireplace, the mantle clock, her form. My focus shifts and I swallow the last of my coffee. It's time to make breakfast.

Monday, April 1, 2013

on spring

Snow melts and icicles drip. Birds sing. Closed windows muffle these voices.

My heart has been beating all winter against clamped veins and bottlenecks. Now my fingers are dead branches. I press them against the window frame but it doesn't give. I can't be sure I'm using all that much force.

Through smudged glass the sun brushes my face and I turn toward it, slow like I'm under water. But the light is sincere: it means something now. The hours that pass trace promises across the living room floor.  That the season will change. That beneath the peeling bark and rotting cork, my core is green. That the sap will run again. And that yes, yes, I am alive.